Large-scale violence erupted here in Haryana on Friday as enraged followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh torched scores of vehicles and buildings in Panchkula after he was held guilty of rape.
Thousands of sect followers who had gathered outside the court complex in Panchkula attacked security personnel and media persons and then went on a rampage.
In no time, it was complete anarchy in and around Panchkula town, adjoining Chandigarh.
Witnesses and residents said about 150 buildings and vehicles were set on fire in Panchkula, sending huge plumes of smoke rising into the sky.
These included government and private vehicles as well as government buildings.
The vastly outnumbered security forces were seen running for cover in some places as thousands of Dera supporters pelted them mercilessly with stones.
Some media Outdoor Broadcasting vans were also set on fire. Some journalists were attacked. Media persons took shelter in nearby houses to save themselves from the mobs.
Security forces opened fire at some places at the protesters. Unconfirmed reports said more than 10 people were killed.
A total of 50 incidents of violence were reported within one hour in Punjab and Haryana after the court verdict became known. The numbers kept increasing as time passed.
Most attacks in Panchkula took place in Sectors 3, 4 and 5, which are all close to the court complex.
The police and paramilitary forces could not react adequately as the mobs indulged in violence.
Soldiers deployed in the area moved in quickly and took control of the court complex, where the sect chief was taken into custody following his conviction.
Violence was also reported from elsewhere in Haryana and Punjab
Attempts were made to burn two railway stations in Punjab’s Malout and Mansa towns. Unconfirmed reports said six masked miscreants damaged and set on afire an Income Tax office in Mansa.
There were reports of violence in Mansa, Bathinda and Ferozepore districts in Punjab. Curfew was imposed in these towns.